Socioeconomic inequalities in health
Fewer children are being born in the Czech Republic. The average number of children born per woman fell interannually from 1.83 to 1.66 last year. While in the past Czechia was a European leader in this criterion, this is no longer the case. The situation is likely to worsen in the years to come, which could present a serious problem. In addition to the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and decline in the economy have had an impact on the negative birth rate, says Jiřina Kocourková, a demographer at the SYRI National Institute.
The number of births last year was the lowest in 18 years. The number of women of reproductive age is falling, while the total fertility rate is set to be seen to have dropped dramatically in 2022. According to demographer Kocourková, this is related to reverberations of the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of births first dropped temporarily towards the end of 2020, a development Kocourková connects with fear brought about by the pandemic. Higher birth rates were present in 2021, followed by the drop last year.
“This is related to the availability of vaccination against Covid-19, which may have led to some postponement of pregnancy planning,” explains Kocourková, who said the drop in birth rates last year also affected other European countries, such as Germany and Sweden. “Another factor was the return to work, when people started to deal with other responsibilities.”
The population of the Czech Republic increased by about 16,700 to 10.533 million people last year. The cause of the increase was migration, as the country registered fewer than 100,000 births last year, for the first time in 18 years. To grow naturally, the birth rate for the Czech Republic would have to rise above 2, an ideal that no developed European country has currently achieved.
“This is related to the democratisation of society and development of individualisation,” says Kocourková. “Basically, it means a transformation of values in Czech society. Higher education and an increasing number of educated young people has led to more people choosing to establish a career before starting a family, so causing reduced fertility through their failure to fulfil their reproductive plans at a greater age.”
A few years ago, Czech women gave birth to their first child between the ages of 28 and 29, which was ideal in comparison with elsewhere in Europe. “We contend that the current situation poses the risk of further delay,” Kocourková adds. “Some millennials who have yet to start a family will be exposed to new conditions, and they will probably be the ones to initiate new changes.”
Demographers, says Kocourková, fear that the fertility slump will continue as unfavourable conditions are further reinforced by economic problems and security risks.
“The effect of 2022, when we were exposed to the beginning of the war in Ukraine and the related further deepening of inflation, will be reflected in the number of births this year. There is a real risk of further decline, and this needs to be taken seriously. In this context, I would say that any restriction on conditions for the family, be this by limiting the parental allowance or by other measures, would give a very unfavourable signal,” says Kocourková.
It is clear that in the face of a record deficit the state needs to save resources. Kocourková warns that this should not be at the expense of families. “In view of the future, I see this as very high-risk,” she concludes.